Our very limited Tokyo travel tips... Just a few essential things to see in a few famous neighborhoods...
Once again we were asked for some Tokyo tips by our friends, this time from the US and Australia. Isabel and Jana, this one’s for you!
Tokyo is humongous and offers a variety of amusing places, depending on the kind of fun you enjoy. There’s an abundance of guides and blogs about Tokyo and we’re not sure how credible our tips are, but we’ll try to list only a few essentials, the ones most exciting to our friends who visited Tokyo :
Starting with the view
You cannot leave Tokyo without seeing the night view from a high-rise building (unless you have a very clear view flying in and/or out the city - in that case you can skip this...). A place that everyone loves is the New York Bar at Park Hyatt Tokyo (note that there's also a restaurant with same name one floor below), Peter the Bar in the Peninsula Hotel (controversial for its view facing the Imperial Palace) or the Andaz Rooftop bar in Toranomon Hills (which is personally least favorite place due to overpriced cover charge/drinks and uncomfortable setting). New York Bar is famous as the "Lost in Translation" movie filming location and it's really great. They have jazz nights and great Japanese whiskey > can't get better than that. Only tourists there, but it's not bad. Keep in mind that (especially music nights) come with a high cover charge. Worth it though. These places are touristy of course, as no local would regularly seek a view from a bar.
Alternatively, you can check the view from the famous Mori building where many companies set their JP base (Gree, Google, Pokemon, G&S etc.). There's a nice Museum of Modern Art (very interesting to check, but it commonly holds exhibitions of western artists - and there's a possibility you've seen some of those artworks outside of Japan before), and it has a lovely sky deck on top of the building.
A free option is visiting the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building next to Shinjuku station - access to 45. floor is free during the day. Careful with the timing there, as it closes at 5pm.
Moving on to our main neighborhoods:
Asakusa with Sensoji shrine still remains the must-see tourist spot.
Despite being overcrowded with tourists during the day, Asakusa remains a must-see tourist spot and still holds the spirit of the old town. We live here and we love it. People here are plain crazy, and Asakusa brings out the freakiest sides of people when least expected.
Evenings here are dedicated to older Tokyo ladies and gentlemen. Many old small bars can be found if you explore the area a little bit. We'll leave the exploration to you. However, a very tourist-friendly and guaranteed fun night can be enjoyed at a HUB, which is a chain of British Pubs across Tokyo. However, HUB Asakusa holds Jazz Night sessions, and the customers (as well as most musicians) belong to Tokyo generation that took the wildest out of the Japanese bubble era (and is still preserving its outgoing spirit and love for dancing and flirting). Grandmas and grandpas wearing stylish hats, feathers, small-heeled dancing shoes and just a little bit over-the-top lipsticks.
Hoppy Dori is a famous "local" drinking alley in Asakusa, that turned into a very touristy and overpriced promenade of street izakayas. There are a few pearls within the lineup though, and if a place catches your attention, don't hesitate visiting it. We don't go there often, but a few months ago, we spent the night in an old gay bar on the strip, drinking with a random stranger who lost 100万円 on horse-racing bets that day, and a cooky exhibitionist. It was a great night, crazy as expected in Asakusa, but we need a few months break from this action now... Time for you to explore though!
Daytime, the nearby Kappabashi-dori is worth a stroll. It's a street between Asakusa and Ueno where equipment for restaurants is sold. You can find anything: from plastic food (for display) to traditional teapots and ceramics. Good shopping place if you want to get yourself a souvenir from Japan (from knives, teapots, cups to plastic key holders).
From Asakusa you have a nice view of Skytree - and it's walking distance from there (passing Philippe Starck’s Asahi Beer (golden poop as locals like to refer to is) building). Skytree is nice to look at from a short distance, but not much to do there > typical shopping mall complex, pretty crowded (Japanese dating place...).
Motorcycle street in Ueno
Walking distance from Asakusa (a bit further from Kappabashi dori) is Ueno, where you can find the motorcycle street (details in previous blog post). Ueno has a wonderful park with many cherry trees, museums, and nearby cheap street restaurants and markets.
See Rikishis (sumo wrestlers) in Ryogoku and eat Chankonabe (sumo hot-pot)
You can see a sumo training in the morning (even for free) but you have to be there before 6am and you have to commit to staying throughout the whole training. We used to live right next to Hakkaku Beya which houses extremely kind and friendly sumo wrestlers. To make an appointment there, email them at least a day in advance. Please note that during big tournaments all Rikishis are engaged in special contest activities, and if the event is in (for example) in Osaka, you can’t find a single Sumo-san on the streets of Tokyo. If they’re in town same time as you are, go visit them! They are fierce, powerful, strong, kind and they smell like heaven (of baby powder & camellia oil)!
Ryogoku is the also the home of the Edo-Tokyo Museum, Katsushika Hokusai Museum and a few other smaller museums and galleries. Worth checking out!
Stroll around Yoyogi park
Meiji Jingu inside Yoyogi park is the most famous Shinto shrine in Tokyo. Very touristy, but very beautiful. While you're in the park, pass by “dog run", where Tokyoites bring their dogs to play, and it’s quite unique to see animal friends dressed up to the latest human fashion styles.
On the way there (next to Harajuku station) you can spot Harajuku pop culture fans dressed to impress. This subculture is not as strong as it was some years ago, but walking down the "cat street" back to Shibuya (small shops and bars) will be fun on its own. On Sundays Japanese rockabilly boys and girls come to the entrance of Yoyogi park (close to Harajuku station) and dance (around noon). It’s crowded, but interesting.
After you've done sightseeing, grab a coffee at Deus Ex Machina in Harajuku. Don't ask why, just do it!
Omotesando, the upscale shopping area, is just down the street. In wintertime, this area is nicely illuminated, and despite the expensive look and feel, the neighborhood offers quite a few nice down-to-earth local bars and restaurants.
Akihabara: geektown, J-POP heaven and place to grab some funky gadgets.
Otaku (JP-geek) people are surely familiar with Akihabara. Historically, this was the home of first electronics shops in Tokyo. Decades ago, TV stores showcased sports matches and attracted crowds of spectators to its corners.
Through decades, it refocused on other areas of visual entertainment, and nowadays Akihabara presents heaven for Japanese manga/anime/game lovers, with many otaku shops and maid cafes. If you're not into otaku culture, there’s no need to spend too much time there. Akihabara is also known as the red light district for uncommon fetishes, and it contains many adult stores. Girls might feel a bit left out here though, as the majority of the shop spaces is secluded as "men-only areas" and the supply of goods is predominantly focused on male pleasure. When my girlfriends came to visit, they expected to learn something new about the infamous Japanese adult industry, but were rather disappointed instead. Women will feel left out in Akihabara.
A good place to grab food/drinks in Akihabara is newly refurbished Manseibashi bridge, where you can grab a beer at for Hitachino Nest Brewery for beer or Fukumori for lunch. Obscura Coffee Roasters (all in same building) has one of the best coffees in Japan (in my humble opinion).
You won't be able to enter the Imperial Palace, but it's cool to see it from far.
If you’re into running, pack sneakers and run around the walls (one lap is exactly 5km) with the locals. Some days in the year, the Imperial Palace gardens are open to public, therefore browse more information on it beforehand, if this is in your interest.
If you decide to stop by Imperial palace, you can grab food and beer in one of the Yakitori (Japanese grill) places under the bridge of Yurakucho station. Next to it is Ginza, the western-style high-end area (there's Laduree teahouse at the main crossing and other typical shops you can find anywhere in the world). Shiseido cosmetics company was founded there, and the main building offers, shops, bars and restaurants, that are worth checking out.
Tsukiji, main fish market, is moving to a new location. Catch the old one while you can - or choose a better alternative!
Many tourists come to Tsukiji to check out the tuna auction. But honestly, who wants to wait from 2AM until 6AM to see some old guys screaming at dead tuna?! Not sure whether it's even possible to see the real thing (heard many diverse 'facts') and really can't give a valid tip on this. In our experience and opinion: Just go there REAL EARLY for breakfast. If you're really interested in tuna, rather take a trip down to Miura Peninsula and go to the local fish market there... Or visit another nearby fish market (we'll add a separate post about this soon).
We can't give much shopping advice lately, unless it's about motorcycle gear...
Everyone has their preference when it comes to hoarding stuff, but 2 shops fit all:
Tokyu Hands (most famous one in Shibuya - where you will definitely go to check out the famous crossing) sells all Japanese stuff you never thought you needed, but you do... On the other hand, 100 yen shops offer more than you can imagine. Everyone in Japan shops in those regularly.
Another chain shop worth mentioning is Don Quijote, commonly called 'Donki', which sells all kinds of useless and redundant (mainly) crap. We did get our technical riding underwear here though (sweaters and pants for wearing under leather Dainese gear).
Red lights and green trees of Shinjuku
We mentioned Shinjuku area above under the "view" section. Viewing blinking red lights on top of Tokyo buildings from Shinjuku is priceless. An area that has a price tag there is the Shinjuku Gyoen - one of rare Tokyo parks that collects entrance fee (around 500JPY, nothing dangerous). However, this is one of most amazing parks in town and completely worth it!
Some might know Shinjuku as the infamous "red light district" in Tokyo. When some friends were visiting, they were hesitant of booking a hotel near "Kabukicho", being dis-advised by a few tourist guides. In reality, there is a red light district in pretty much every neighborhood in Tokyo, the Shinjuku just seems to be the touristy one. And there's nothing dangerous about it really, unless you go there looking for trouble.
Food here is sooooooo damn good that it deserves its own post. Will try to add a list of our favorite places rather than squeezing it in here!
This is just the essential intro to Tokyo, in the most basic way we (and our visitors) see it. There's really too much to cover. If anyone needs a specific tip or opinion, just ask us!